If MIke Sanford does not win a minimum of 4 games and is close in the majority then this could be the last year for the Rebel coach.
This should be the year things finally come together. Well, maybe. If it’s possible, UNLV is still rebuilding in the fifth year of Mike Sanford’s reign.
Rebel fans have heard it all before having been teased by the potential of the John Robinson era and with Sanford the hot offensive mind coming over from Utah to wreak havoc on the rest of the Mountain West, but there hasn’t been any luck and it’s been a slow process to make any headway.
Step one to run the Shotgun Spread offense is to get steady quarterback play, which Sanford has never been able to enjoy with injuries (Rocky Hinds and Shane Steichen), inability (Jarrod Jackson) and inexperience (Omar Clayton and Travis Dixon) killing the potential for any consistency.
Step two is to have the playmakers, and Sanford now has them. If the receiving tandem of Ryan Wolfe and Casey Flair isn’t the best in the Mountain West, it’s not far off. Frank “The Tank” Summers is a good running back to carry the load from time to time. Step three is to actually score.
Everyone else seems to be rocking with the same offense that Sanford helped evolve, and now it’s finally time for the Rebels to get production. Combine the improved attack with an athletic defense that should be more disruptive under new defensive coordinator Dennis Therrell, and the recipe is there for a turnaround.
If it doesn’t happen this season, the 2009 storyline will be about the program starting from square one. This is Sanford’s last shot, and he has his best team yet to show off what he can do.
What to watch for on offense: The running game. With Summers a pounder of a back that no one wants to deal with, and an improved, veteran offensive line that’s the best Sanford has had by far, the offense will rely more on running it to take the pressure off the quarterbacks. At least that’s going to be the plan early on.
What to watch for one defense: Selling out. That was the plan last year and it didn’t happen. Therrell is going to bring the house in an attempt to be more disruptive, and while he might not have the linebackers to do it early on, he has a good line to work with and a decent enough secondary to hold its own with the pressure on.
The team will be far better if … it can score. The offense had a lot of bells and whistles last season, a great receiving corps, a 928-yard back, and two dynamic quarterbacks, but it couldn’t put points on the board. Cranking out more long drives would be nice, but closing with scores is the whole idea and this offense hasn’t been able to do it.
The Schedule: The Rebels would probably lose to Utah and BYU anyway, so the games against the two league powerhouses might as well be on the road. That means Air Force, TCU and New Mexico have to come to Vegas. There are only two back-to-back road games and they come early against the Utes and at Arizona State. Winning the opener against Utah State is a must with non-conference games against the Sun Devils, Iowa State and Nevada, but there’s no reason the Rebels can’t sneak away with two wins outside of league play.